Fitness is the last thing that people think of when the word 'motorsports' comes to mind. There is a misconception among some who do not consider motorsports as real sports due to their lack of knowledge. In conversation with The Bridge, racers Sneha Sharma and Mira Erda cleared up the lesser-known aspect of fitness in motorsports.
Sneha Sharma began her motorsports journey with Go Kart and eventually did several other races. To fund her passion for racing, she became a pilot for Indigo Airlines. She raced the Formula 4 Sepang International Circuit, becoming the first Indian woman to finish 6th among a predominantly male-dominated competition. She has also passed the F3 simulator and one day hopes to race in F1.
Mira Erda began her racing journey with Go-Kart when she was 9. Her brothers frequented her dad's Go-Kart track in Vadodara, built out of a passion for motorsport and she eventually became motivated to get behind the wheels. Deciding to make a change in the male-dominated motorsports industry, she decided to train professionally and participated in her first race in Hyderabad at the age of 9. She won several races and shifted to Formula 4 at the age of 14. She won the Rookie Nationals in 2016 in the LGB category. She raced internationally in 2019 at Formula 4 and won a race in Malaysia in the women's category, making her the first-ever Indian female to win at F4.
When it comes to fitness for racers, it is similar to other sports. Mira said, "Fitness routines vary according to racers on a personal level. I prefer cardio, strength training, and lifting weights which help with strength and endurance." Sneha verified this point as she said "I work a lot on my endurance by rowing and performing a lot of cardio. Strength training is just also essential to get control when driving."One core component they seemed to agree on is that core strength plays a huge role.
Weightlifting, calisthenics, and virtually most forms of fitness involve core strength which includes training the abdominal muscles, obliques, and lower back to prevent injuries and have a stable spine. Both Sneha and Mira agreed on the importance of core strength as it plays a huge part in racing. Sneha also added that training the neck is important.
When it comes to the tarmac, there are various facets of fitness involved. Sneha said, "Juggling, skipping, and other warm-up exercises help in developing skills that can prove essential during the race." Mira explained that though not applicable to the categories she races in, Formula 1 racers are also known to weigh in before and after a race as weight loss occurs while racing. "Maintaining our physique and diet is of utmost importance as we need physical strength. Initially, I had lower stamina and strength which led to slowing down in the final laps. Physical fitness can help you gain or lose positions in racing and the event of a car crash, having a strong core and neck helps cope with the effects", similar to Sneha's take on neck training.
Sneha explained, "Fluid intake is very important. Racers are very close to the ground and the tarmac gets hot. Temperatures rise very high and you are wearing a suit with a lot of layers, including fireproofing. There have been instances where people have thrown up in the middle of racing." She also offered a unique insight into the nutrition palette and recovery for a racer. "Light food during a race helps. My diet is high in protein fiber", she said. Given the enduring nature of training, carbohydrates are also essential, making a racer's diet balanced. "Physical recovery is also very important after rigorous training as it helps in reducing after-effects of exercise", she added.
Coming to the mental aspect of the sport, Mira elaborated, "Mental fitness is equal to physical strength and fitness because you need to be very alert when driving. Being calm at the moment and understanding the situation is very important. To control the pace behind you and not let your opponent overtake you while maintaining speed and constantly aware of your environment is mentally taxing. If you are strong, you can have the upper hand over your competitors and I believe they go hand in hand. When initially racing, things didn't always work out but I patiently worked on my driving skills and got results in the end. I believe in taking one step at a time and it helped me improve as a racer." Sneha added to the mental aspect of racing, "Mental fitness is essential. Simulators and visualization are a few forms of mental training that can help a racer prepare."
Motorsports is not associated with other team sports or Olympic sports where fitness is the first thought that comes to mind. Given the accounts of both racers, it is a serious misconception that racers do not need to be fit. "Some people may think that racing is sitting in a car and driving is no big deal. However, when you slow down from 230kmph to 100kmph in the braking zone while ensuring that your opponent's pace is in check, it requires a lot of strength and mental fitness. Workouts are very important in motorsports, physically and mentally." Sneha also added that a racer's lifestyle is not easy and varies from person to person. "As I am a pilot and a racer, I faced some trouble with depth perception initially. But I have adjusted to it over time. I spend a lot of time racing, flying, and studying, but during personal breaks, I make sure to hang out with friends and family."
Motorsports require fitness just as much as any other sports. A sport is defined by athletic ability, mental fitness, skill, and competition. Racing ticks all the boxes as it requires strength, endurance, perseverance, alertness, and many other facets of physical and mental fitness. This makes it a challenging sport.